Diet and Exercise to Help With Erectile Dysfunction
Written by Leann Poston, M.D.
Erectile dysfunction affects almost one in every ten men at some point in their lives. So, it is not surprising that many men, and their partners, are asking if diet and exercise can affect erectile dysfunction. Researchers have been evaluating the best foods and diets to support erectile function as well as exercises that may help.
Erectile dysfunction (E.D.) is often caused by blood vessel damage or suboptimal hormone levels; however, it can also be caused by stress or poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, or not making time for physical activity.
While its true medications can help improve blood flow and hormone levels, dietary changes and simple exercises can also help improve erectile function by supporting overall cardiovascular health. That being said, your first step should be to contact your doctor in order to determine the cause of your E.D. symptoms. In some men, E.D. is an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease.
Good Foods for Erectile Dysfunction
The Mediterranean diet and other similar diets, rich in fruits and vegetables, lean sources of proteins, and healthy fats, promote overall good health and decrease the risk of obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight can improve erectile function and testosterone levels.
Several studies support the conclusion that following a Mediterranean-style diet can decrease the risk of E.D. The link between diet and improved erectile function was stronger in men under the age of 60, but it was found in all age groups (Bauer et al., 2020).
Researchers also found that a traditional Western diet was associated with lower semen quality (La et al., 2018). Avoid high-fat, high-calorie foods and beverages in favor of non-processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains whenever possible.
Folic acid, also known as folate, can decrease high levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid. At high concentrations, it can damage the lining of your blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to heart disease and stroke.
In a study of 120 men with varying degrees of E.D., the men with the most severe E.D. had the lowest folic acid levels, despite having normal testosterone levels (Karabakan et al., 2015). Folic acid is abundant in many fruits and vegetables.
Foods high in folic acid:
Because flavonoids improve circulation, foods high in this nutrient may increase blood flow into the penis. Flavonoids are naturally occurring antioxidants.
In a study that enrolled 25,906 men, men who consumed foods rich in flavonoids were less likely to report E.D. Flavonoids improve blood vessel function while lowering blood pressure. They have anti-inflammatory properties as well as the ability to modulate nitric oxide levels. When E.D. is caused by inadequate blood flow into the penis, reducing inflammation and dilating blood vessels is likely to help (Cassidy et al., 2016).
Foods high in flavonoids:
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine
Citrulline is an amino acid. It is a precursor to L-arginine, an amino acid that dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow. Despite the fact that citrulline is not a component of muscle, it appears to stimulate muscle growth (Bahri et al., 2013). Increasing blood flow and muscle mass are two advantages that will help you lose weight and improve your cardiovascular health.
In a study of 24 men with mild-to-moderate E.D. who took a placebo for one month followed by a month of L-citrulline, half of the men reported an improvement in erection hardness from mild E.D. to normal erectile function (Cormio et al., 2011).
In a small study, L-citrulline and trans-resveratrol were added to phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors. According to the study, the addition of L-citrulline and trans-resveratrol improved erectile function in men who were dissatisfied with the results of using phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors alone (Shirai et al., 2018). Watermelon is an excellent source of L-citrulline.
Foods high in L-citrulline
L-citrulline can be converted to L-arginine in the body. L-arginine widens blood vessels, increasing blood flow.
In a meta-analysis of 10 studies involving 540 men, L-arginine appeared to significantly improve E.D. symptoms when compared to placebo (Rhim et al., 2018).
Foods high in L-arginine:
- Pork loin
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Increased consumption of long-chain fats, which are found in most fish, was associated with lower levels of blood vessel inflammation (Lopez-Garcia & Hu, 2004). Blood flow into the penis and surrounding tissue can be improved by reducing inflammation in small blood vessels.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Albacore tuna
Zinc is a micronutrient that plays a role in testosterone production. Low testosterone is associated with severe to moderate deficiency. The consequences of marginal levels are unknown (Prasad et al.,1996). Zinc is also important for immune function.
Foods that contain zinc:
- Beef chuck roast
- Pumpkin seeds
Lycopene can be found in a variety of bright red fruits and vegetables. It is a carotenoid that acts as an antioxidant and helps the body scavenge free radicals that can damage DNA. Lycopene may also reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, a risk factor for high blood pressure and reduced blood flow (Arab & Steck, 2000).
Good sources of lycopene include:
Diabetes mellitus, smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are all risk factors for oxidative stress. These conditions are some of the most common causes of E.D. (Zhang et al., 2011). Antioxidants decrease metabolic stress and reduce the risk of blood vessel damage.
Antioxidants can increase nitric oxide levels in blood vessels, increasing blood flow. Antioxidants have been shown to improve vascular and erectile function (Meldrum et al., 2012).
Two studies demonstrate the potential benefits of a diet high in antioxidants in preventing E.D. In a study of 17 men who ate 100 grams of pistachio nuts for three weeks, men reported a significant improvement in erectile function (Aldemir et al., 2011). In an animal study, pomegranate extract significantly improved intracavernosal blood flow and erectile function (Zhang et al., 2011).
Foods high in antioxidants
- Dark chocolate
- Blueberries and other berries
- Green tea
Foods and Drink That May Increase E.D. Symptoms
When 3724 men were questioned about their dietary habits, men who reported a higher caffeine intake were less likely to report E.D. However, this study was based on self-reported data and was not a prospective study (Lopez et al., 2015). Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means that it can reduce blood flow into the penis. Further study is needed to determine whether caffeine improves or worsens E.D. symptoms.
Despite conflicting findings in clinical studies, men should monitor the effects of alcohol use on erectile function. Alcohol can lower testosterone levels, decrease blood flow into the penis, and cause fatigue. At least in some men, alcohol can exacerbate symptoms of E.D.
Caffeine and nicotine both narrow blood vessels, reducing blood flow into the penis and increasing the risk of E.D. when it is secondary to vascular problems. Several studies have found that smoking is the leading modifiable cause of E.D., particularly in younger men.
Read More: Can Nicotine Cause Impotence
The healthy foods on this list are expected to improve cardiovascular health and, therefore, erectile function. However, it is important to investigate the underlying cause of E.D. Your doctor can discuss your symptoms and develop a comprehensive plan that emphasizes a healthy diet while also considering the many potential medical interventions such as Trimix that have helped many men with E.D. regain normal erectile function.
Good Exercises for Erectile Dysfunction
Exercise can help reverse some of the risk factors for E.D., such as being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure, being stressed, or having weak pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises tighten the muscles around the base of the penis. These muscles exert pressure on the blood vessels that drain the penis. Tightening these muscles can help keep blood in the penis longer and therefore help maintain an erection. Pelvic floor exercises (also called Kegel exercises) can tighten the muscles that sag and weaken as we age (Meldrum et al., 2014).
In one study, 55 men with E.D. were either taught pelvic floor exercises with biofeedback and lifestyle changes (treatment group) or advised on lifestyle changes (control group). After six months, 40 percent of men who performed pelvic floor exercises regained normal erectile function (Dorey et al., 2005).
To do Kegel Exercises
These exercises can be done sitting, lying, or standing.
- Concentrate on lifting and pulling in your genitals for a count of 5.
- Slowly relax your muscles.
- Don’t hold your breath while performing this exercise.
- Repeat 10 times, aim for two to three times per day.
- Be sure you are not contracting your stomach, legs, or buttocks.
- If you are unsure whether you are contracting the correct muscles. Try stopping your stream of urine periodically to feel these muscles tighten.
Pilates is a group of exercises designed to strengthen your body core. Although there are many potential exercises, here are two sample ones that focus on the pelvic floor.
- Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Rest your arms at your side.
- Attempt to flex your hips to press your lower back into the ground.
- Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Repeat the exercise slowly, 10 times, or as able.
- Be in the same position as for the pelvic tilt.
- Press your lower back on the floor.
- Slowly rotate one knee to one side while keeping your feet flat.
- Return your knees to the midline.
- Repeat this exercise slowly 10 times.
Aerobic exercises, such as walking or running, improve cardiovascular health, help men maintain a healthy weight, and decrease the risk of high blood pressure. In a review of studies on exercise and E.D., researchers discovered that 160 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week divided over four days decreased E.D. (Gerbild et al., 2018).
For most healthy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation is to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week or a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.
Erectile dysfunction is extremely common, and many men will experience it at some point in their lifetime. Healthy lifestyle habits are an excellent starting point for treating erectile dysfunction. Strengthening your muscles and consuming a healthy diet can improve your cardiovascular health as well as your erectile function.
Suppose you find that dietary and exercise changes are not enough to restore your erectile function to normal. In that case, we hope you will consider contacting the telemedicine professionals at Invigor Medical to learn more about the wide range of medical treatment options that can supplement your dietary and exercise regimen.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
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